Hello everyone, and welcome to this new post!
Today, we are going to talk about empathy and, more importantly, how to use it to support your teams. Are you ready? Let’s get started!
Why Empathy is Essential
Why should we be interested in empathy in the context of our role as an agile leader?
Well, believe it or not, empathy is much more than just a basic human quality. I see it as a powerful tool that can enhance the cohesion of our teams and lead them to higher levels of performance!
Do you already know what it looks like? Have you ever asked yourself?
Have you ever experienced a situation where you felt thoroughly listened to and understood. A situation where it seemed like the person in front of you could feel the same as you? A sense of being deeply understood in your struggles, a sense of feeling completely supported.
If yes, that person in front of you demonstrated empathy: they became aware of your own inner experience and accepted it without judgement. They supported you in your own expression of this experience, setting aside their own considerations.
That’s what empathy is. It enables you to build strong bonds with others, fostering trust and constructing a work environment where everyone feels listened to and valued.
By embracing empathy, you can better understand the needs of your teams: because you will question them on this aspect. You will be able to motivate them appropriately because you will understand them more easily. It will also allow you to resolve conflicts constructively and promote each individual’s personal fulfillment.
As you can see, empathy is a true asset in your role as an agile leader.
I assume you want to learn more about the mechanisms of empathy and how to use them, so let’s move on!
The Mechanisms of Empathy
Have you ever tried to be empathetic towards others? How did it go?
Empathy is defined as the ability to recognize and understand others’ emotions, to put oneself in their place. For the more sensitive individuals, empathy gives the impression of feeling the same emotion as the person in front, very strongly. These people are empaths, hypersensitive individuals, to the point of feeling everything exponentially, and even fearing this interaction with others. Today, I am not going to talk about empaths, but about becoming more empathetic.
What you may not know is that humans are not the only ones to be empathetic: certain monkeys have developed this ability, to preserve their species’ survival. This ability allows us to develop through our understanding of what the other is going through and their needs, to improve daily life together.
There are different types of empathy:
- one linked to the ability to feel the same emotions,
- one linked to thoughts, which allows us to understand the other person’s situation,
- the ability to express to the other that we understand and are ready to help, which is notably found in Non-Violent Communication (NVC).
Thanks to empathy, we can better connect with others and particularly express understanding and compassion, very useful to create a climate of trust, essential to Agile teams. Yet, our current world, focused on the individual, has seen the number of people practicing empathy decrease. Because empathy is not innate: it is acquired over time and practice. Even if some people will find it easier than others to develop, it is attainable by the majority.
In some Nordic countries, it is even integrated as a subject in schools and is practiced, just like math or French. In these classes, students learn to communicate, listen, manage their emotions.
Well, we are not in Denmark, and I assume you didn’t have empathy classes at school, so I propose we move on to concrete tools to develop your empathy.
Practical Tools to Develop Empathy
Self-awareness is essential to develop empathy because it involves putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, while remaining oneself. It is necessary for you to remain in control of yourself when you want to show empathy to someone. It allows you to understand the other, without being affected. The more you know and trust yourself, the more you can set aside any judgement of the other.
My experience has shown that the best way to know oneself is to observe oneself: your emotions, your own thoughts, and to name them and accept them as messengers. This allows us to identify our own values and needs, which reinforce our identity and ground us in situations where we interact with others.
But I invite you to explore other approaches if this one does not resonate with you.
Recognition of Emotions
To properly recognize others’ emotions, it’s important to first recognize our own emotions. Putting words to them and being aware of how we feel this emotion in our body. Take the time to listen to yourself, to rest, and to treat yourself with compassion. This will allow you to be more open and receptive to others’ emotions.
Learn to decode their emotional signals and react appropriately. Be sensitive to mood changes to offer a listening ear, always with the other person’s consent. For example, if a usually cheerful colleague arrives angry after a meeting, you could say, “You seem upset, would you like to talk about it?”.
Don’t hesitate to express your understanding and sincere support. It’s not about just saying “I understand” if you have no idea how the person feels, or if you are basing it solely on your experience and your frame of reference. Take the time to ask questions, listen to them, so you can truly put yourself in their shoes and say, “I understand that this could be difficult for you right now,” which will be much more accurate.
Practice Active Listening
When interacting with your teammates, make sure to really listen to what they say, without judgement or interruption.
Show sincere attention and seek to understand their emotions, their concerns, and their aspirations. Show them that you are genuinely present and committed to the relationship.
Active listening is when we are curious about the other person, and we sincerely seek to understand them. We accept that they don’t have to experience life the same way we do and can feel things completely differently.
Active listening requires focusing on the person and working with silences, so the person has the space to express and reflect they need.
And there we have it, we’ve reached the end of this video dedicated to using empathy to support your teams.
As always, nothing beats practice and experimentation to find what suits you best! Ask yourself what resonated most with what I proposed today and what you would like to try out now.
Take care of yourself!